Huawei threatened to pull investment from Denmark in response to new screening law

The head of Huawei Denmark sent a letter to the Danish Prime Minister indicating it would rethink its involvement with the country if special security requirements were imposed on it.

The story was broken by Danish paper Berlingske and followed almost immediately by a similar story from Politico. Both are paywalled, but we’ve been able to have a look at the Politico one. At the core of the story is a letter sent by Jiang Lichao, CEO of Huawei Denmark to the Danish PM Mette Frederiksen, on 17 December 2019, which Politico has published here.

“There has been a perfect storm lately around Huawei 5G in the Kingdom of Denmark,” it opens. “The high diplomatic and political waves have almost thrown over a small boat called ‘Huawei Denmark’.” To understand what prompted the use of such a dramatic metaphor, we need to refer to a Berlingske report from a week earlier, which isn’t paywalled and has been published in English.

‘Banned recording reveals China ambassador threatened Faroese leader at secret meeting’ is the headline of the story. It covers an audio recording in which it is claimed that the Chinese Ambassador to Denmark threatened the Trade Minister of the semi-autonomous Faroe Islands, which are part of Denmark, with the withdrawal of a free trade agreement if Huawei didn’t get a 5G contract.

If that did happen, not only is it a scandal in its own right, but it calls into question Huawei’s repeated claims that it has no direct relationship with the Chinese state. It looks like the ‘hot mic’ recording was never published, but the furore generated by the story was apparently so great that Huawei felt compelled to appeal directly to the PM.

“Our relationship with the Chinese government is no different from normal business-government relations for private companies in other countries,” continues the letter, noting reports of a new screening law for foreign investments. “Huawei welcomes laws and regulations as long as they are applied equally to all players… We are willing to dedicate our efforts to continue contributing to the Danish telecommunications networks. However the recent noises made us feel great uncertainty.”

In a bid to resolve that uncertainty, the letter asked the PM for answers to the following questions:

  1. If Huawei is still welcome to participate in developing telecommunication infrastructure, including 5G network rollout, in Denmark based on normal business terms and conditions?
  2. Will the same security requirements and standards be equally applied to Huawei as to other telecommunication equipment suppliers?

While not overtly stated, the clear inference is that if the answer is negative to either of those questions then Huawei will be forced to have a rethink about its participation in the Danish market. In isolation that’s not such a contentious position to adopt, but just a month later Huawei seemed to have no problem with the UK, and then the rest of Europe, imposing exactly the kinds of restrictions it had warned Denmark to avoid. That position was reinforced in its recent submission to the UK’s review of its Huawei decision.

For a local perspective we spoke to Danish telecoms Analyst John Strand. Huawei usually says that they share our values and that they do not have close ties to the Chinese government,” he said. “The letters to the two Danish prime ministers contradict that. For one, the letters state that they work in concert with the Chinese government, something that their website and public statements have consistently denied. Moreover the notion that the Danish Prime Minister would muzzle the press at Huawei’s request is not consistent with our values.”

While the letter is now five months old, and Huawei may well have changed its position since then, this apparent evidence of Huawei and the Chinese state seeking to pressure governments over their security decisions is very uncomfortable for the Chinese vendor. It comes as Denmark embarks on a review of its critical infrastructure policies in the light of vulnerabilities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and could well have implications beyond that country.

Telenor and Telia claim Multi-Operator Core Network first in Denmark

Every Nordic country was represented when Telenor and Telia got Nokia to help them build a new shared network in Denmark.

They are collectively laying claim to the world’s most advanced shared wireless network, thanks to the use of a feature called Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN). This enables distinct mobile operators with their own core network to share a common radio access network infrastructure as well as spectrum resources, according to the announcement.

“This is a major step on our 5G journey, and I really look forward to start testing with real customers and understanding how 5G can provide true value for them,” said Henrik Kofod CTO at Telia Denmark. “I hope this will inspire other operators in the Danish market to move in the same direction. Network sharing is a great choice when it comes to building sustainable 5G networks. When we maximize our resource utilization, we lower our carbon footprint and optimize our investments.”

“Network sharing is a clear strategic priority for Telenor to continuously deliver one of the best mobile networks in the world, supporting safe and reliable connectivity to our private and business users,” said Georg Svendsen CTO at Telenor.

“Deploying 5G networks independently can be an expensive undertaking for mobile operators in the most competitive markets,” said Tommi Uitto, President of Mobile Networks at Nokia. “This trial highlights that through network sharing, operators can drive efficiencies, lower costs and bring the myriad benefits of 5G to businesses and consumers quickly. We hope that this trial demonstrates to operators around the world that there are multiple options open to them to get their 5G networks up and running quickly and at the lowest possible cost.”

Of course network sharing makes sense if the operators involved can halve the cost of network infrastructure while maintaining a similar level of performance. There is a slightly self-harming air to these sorts of announcements from kit vendors as network sharing presumably means they flog less kit. But if that’s what their customers want it would be even more self-defeating not to sell it to them.

TDC hoovers up Danish spectrum in latest auction

The Danish Energy Agency has completed its latest spectrum auction, with TDC running away with the majority of the available assets.

Of the 20 blocks in the 700, 900 and 2300 MHz frequency bands, TDC won 14, the maximum available to the telco at this auction. 3 Denmark acquired two 10 MHz blocks in each of the 700 and 900 MHz bands, while TT Network, Telia and Telenor’s joint venture, two 5 MHz in the 700 MHz and two 10 MHz in the 900 MHz band.

“Several frequency blocks provide higher speed, longer range and stronger indoor coverage, which gives us a unique position to strengthen and develop the best coverage in Denmark,” said TDC CEO Allison Kirkby.

“TDC has connected all over Denmark for almost 140 years, and the new licenses ensure that Danish consumers, companies and society enjoy new experiences, services and the many opportunities that 5G offers.”

With ambitious plans to rollout 5G across Denmark by the end of 2020, this is certainly an aggressive sign of intent from TDC. The telco paid NOK 1.6 billion, roughly €210 million, for its haul, while 3 Denmark paid a total over roughly €68 million. TT Network paid €14 million for its 700 MHz assets and nothing for 900 MHz, though it will be charged with coverage obligations.

As it currently stands, according to Ovum’s WCIS database, TDC is currently the market leader with 42% market share, TT Network controls roughly 40% of subscriptions, while 3 collects the remaining 18%.

While these prices might seem ludicrously cheap in comparison to other spectrum auctions which have been taking place around the bloc, Denmark’s population of 5.8 million ranks it at 111th worldwide, while its land mass ranks at 130th.

Three Denmark pushes carrier billing as value add

Cutting through the competitive chaos can be a difficult task, and while Three UK is focusing on convergence and broadband, Three Denmark is making a play to manage the consumers wallet.

With mobile services becoming increasingly utilitised the telcos need to search for a new way to stay relevant and add value to the consumer. Some are diversifying into alternative connectivity services or content, but other are broadening their wings outside the traditional realms of telecommunications.

“It can be difficult to keep track of how many different small amounts you are allowed to spend on apps, movies and games – or how much you get used during a month,” said David Elsass of Three Denmark. “Therefore, many of our customers, both with and without children, have sought greater overview.”

Many telcos have created a very unique position of trust with the consumer. Some might begrudgingly plug credit card details into the Google or Amazon matrix, but almost every consumer trusts their telco to manage their financial details effectively. With more services becoming online-first, or at-least digitally-orientated, a telco can bridge the gap in trust, allowing sceptical consumers to interact with the digital economy.

This is the niche which Three Denmark is looking to fill. Through 3Payment, customers will be able to pool all Apple, Google and Microsoft purchases into their phone bill, streamlining the increasingly fragmented digital economy.

According to a report from DIBS Payment Services, the Danes spent over 20 Danish Krone (roughly £2.3 billion) on online services and subscriptions. As many of these providers are making it so easy to purchase services, keeping track of total spend can be a complicated process. The 3Payment will not only streamline these payments into a single point, but also give the user the option to limit spending.

Three is not necessarily following the status quo in creating additional value to customers, but this is a very interesting approach. Unless the telcos offer something different to consumers, there is a very real risk of walking the path to utilitisation.

One of the main reasons we like this initiative is Three is attempting to add value to the ecosystem in an emerging segment, leaning on one of its attributes. This isn’t an example of a telco attempting to muscle into a competitive segment which is dominated by traditional players which have very different business models, like content, which we see as risky.

Three is leveraging a strength which it has, the trust relationship between it and the consumer, and tackling a pain-point in the digital economy. Simple, forward-looking and innovative.

Ericsson wins TDC 5G gig

Danish operator TDC has chosen Ericsson to help it build and maintain its 5G network.

The deal involves Ericsson’s 5G platform, supported by its Operations Engine, as support system that’s heavy on the AI and automation. The resulting network is heavy on the buzzwords, with lofty talk of industry 4.0 and Digital Denmark. They’re not planning to waste any time, with pilot testing due to take place later this year and full nationwide commercial rollout by the end of 2020.

Allison Kirkby, President and CEO, TDC Group, says: “I am truly excited that TDC will now start to build the infrastructure of the future in partnership with Ericsson, and enable a Digital Denmark with the best nationwide wireless network,” said Allison Kirkby, CEO of TDC. “5G will bring a step change in capacity, internet speed and intelligent connectivity – in other words – 5G will empower a new era for the digital economy and will allow Denmark to build on its position as a global digital frontrunner.”

“TDC becomes the latest service provider in Europe that we will switch on 5G for,” said Ericsson boss Börje Ekholm. “We are delighted to partner with TDC not just in 5G radio and core, but in related R&D and innovation, and the absolute latest in managed services through Ericsson Operations Engine. We will work with TDC to digitalize the Danish economy to ensure Danish consumers, enterprises and society benefit from the new experiences, services, and capabilities enabled by 5G.”

Ericsson has restructured its managed services business to focus on supporting networking kit business and this seems to be a classic example of the kind of thing it has in mind. The managed service contract with TDC will last five years and is so intimate that 100 TDC networking experts will be transferred to Ericsson.

Is telecom losing Europe’s next generation employees?

Telecoms companies did not feature in the top employers’ lists chosen by the current and potential young employees in a recent multi-country survey.

The Swedish consulting firm Academic Work recently published the results of a survey on current and future young employees in six European countries, which asked the respondents to choose their most “aspired” employer, hence the title of the survey “Young Professional Aspiration Index (YPAI) 2018”. Among the three Nordic countries where it broke down the details of the employers the young people most like to work for, Google came on top in all of them (it tied with Reaktor in Finland, the consulting firm behind the country’s big AI drive). None of the telecom companies, be it telcos or telecom equipment makers, made to the top-10’s.

 YPAI 2018

The survey was done in the four Nordic countries (Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark) plus Germany and Switzerland. Nearly 19,000 young people, a mixture of students (22%), current employed (59%), as well as job seekers (15%) answered the survey. The majority of the respondents came out of Sweden, while just under 1,000 respondents were registered from Finland and Norway. Presumably the sample sizes were not big enough in the other three countries to break down the top-10 company lists.

YPAI 2018 respondents

In addition to asking the respondents to name their preferred employers, the survey also asked them about their most important criteria when choosing a place to work. “Good working environment and nice colleagues” came on top in four out of the six countries (chosen by 60% of the respondents in Sweden, 78% in Denmark, 73% in Germany, and 66% in Switzerland). It tied with “Leadership” in Sweden. In Finland coming on top was “varied and challenging tasks”, chosen by 60% of those who answered the survey, while in Norway 64% of the young people surveyed chose “training / development opportunities” as the most important criterion.

Once upon a time (i.e. around the turn of the century), telecom was THE industry to work in. It has been losing some of its old lustre to the internet giants. If they “aspire” to re-take the top spot of the young people’s mind share, the Ericssons and Nokias and Telenors of the world may want to refer to these criteria when promoting their corporate image, as a starting point.